MOOCs are Still in its Infancy
Professors have been lulling students into near comatose states for centuries. The "I'll talk. You listen" approach to higher learning has evolved very little since the Middle Ages--but that is about to change.
The MOOC or "massive open online course" hopes to shake things up and change the face of post-secondary education.
What is a MOOC?
A term coined by two Canadians from the University of Manitoba, MOOC or "massive open online course" is used to refer to a course that is offered on the internet. A MOOC is designed to attract large volumes of students, offer material that is similar to that found at traditional post-secondary schools, and allow students to study at their own pace. One caveat, however, is that they do not tend to be accredited, nor do students receive a credit or degree upon course completion.
Who offers MOOCs?
MOOC providers fall under two categories--non-profit and for-profit. A group of universities led by Harvard and MIT have launched the non-profit edX, a MOOC that enables users to study a huge array of subject areas including engineering, the humanities, the sciences, business, electronics, and more. And some of these courses now offer a Certificate of Achievement.
Prominent for-profit providers include Udacity and Coursera, both of which were founded by Stanford Academics. Both boast content from some of the globe's topnotch universities for free.
The upside of the MOOC.
Like all new technologies, MOOCs have attracted both staunch supporters and determined detractors. Those who embrace the MOOC cite several benefits.
• Broad appeal. As of October 2013, Coursera had secured more than five million students and Udacity had spread to over 200 nations. With such fervid interest, MOOCs obviously fill a void within education systems the world over.
• Compliments traditional campus learning. Sanjay Sarma, the head of MIT's MOOCs, believes that they will free up the classroom for interactive learning, mentoring, and more productive discussion time. Using MOOCs to transmit lectures as homework will make better use of on-campus time.
• Evens the global playing field. Approximately two-thirds of all MOOC users live outside of North America--many in undereducated regions. By providing individuals with access to higher learning, young people around the world will be better equipped to combat poverty.
• Economical. Community colleges and public universities are suffering financially and are looking to MOOCs as a way to save money. By offering lectures via an online platform, these institutions can save money on electricity, classroom materials, building maintenance, and more.
The downside of the MOOC.
The MOOC is experiencing hiccups and growing pains along the way--and some are quite serious.
• Lack of accreditation. There is something quite satisfying about earning a degree. Unfortunately, most MOOCs do not lead to the acquisition of a credit, let alone leading to a diploma or degree. In a highly competitive job market, this is a major disadvantage to relying on this type of education.
• High attrition. According to multiple sources, almost 90% of those that sign up for a MOOC fail to complete it. In fact, one electronics course through MIT attracted roughly 155,000 registrants, but only 7157 people completed the course. MIT, however, states that despite this high dropout rate, the number of students who did stick with it equates to the number who would take the on-campus course over a forty year period. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania also saw high attrition rates with only four percent of registrants completing courses.
• Online chatter. Many online students find it difficult to weed through "small talk" postings to find useful informational on public forums.
• Peer grading system. Some students are turned off by the volume of homework that is graded by peers rather than professors.
Yes, the MOOC is a newcomer to the educational realm. It has had its shining moments and its not-so-minor hiccups as well. Time will tell what shape the MOOCs of the future will take--if any--and what impact they will have on the antiquated dinosaur that is the lecture hall.
How do you feel about MOOCs and their role in traditional educational settings?